Many people might think that the job correctional officer is to make sure that criminals stay in prisons. However, in reality, correctional officers do a lot of other things. Besides managing the prisons, they often provide consultation to inmates, and, as an important role of the correctional service, they help reform the criminals so that they are able to adapt to society and do not repeat their crimes.
Correctional officers get temporarily assigned to different posts. For example, for the first few years, one could be assigned to the security division. Next, this officer could be assigned to the CRPT (Correctional Rapid Patrol Team) for few years, and then finally he or she might be transferred to do deskwork for another few years.
There are three kinds of places where correctional officers work: a regional correction headquarters, correctional institutes, and detention centers. A regional correction headquarters is where they assist the commissioner of the Korea Correctional Service in administration and management. A correctional institution is the official term for a “prison” and is where sentenced inmates go. A detention center is where prisoners that have not yet been convicted stay. There are four regional correction headquarters and 52 public correctional facilities where about 16,000 officers work, around the country.
Correctional officers wear uniforms. Formal dress and ceremonial dress are worn during important occasions. A combat uniform is worn by the CRPT team, and a service uniform is worn for most other situations.
Inspector Kim Tae-won is an experienced correctional officer who has been serving in this profession for 17 years. He now works for the Korea Correctional Service headquarters in Gwacheon.
1. Why did you decide to become a correctional officer?
I used to do judo, and an acquaintance who used to do judo with me became a correctional officer. He told me that there is a special recruitment system that hires rank-holding judo experts as correctional officers. At first, I did not know much about the career of a correctional officer, so things seemed to be quite difficult. However, as time passed, I am now used to this job and proud for serving justice as I am now assured that I am contributing to social security.
2. What are some of the difficulties you face working as a correctional officer?
First of all, providing consultation for the inmates was very difficult during the early years in my career. Inmates are composed very various kinds of people. So, it was hard for me to understand them at first. These things made me impatient. Secondly, a lot of friction can occur between correctional officers and inmates when the officers check the bodies of inmates. There is a workspace where inmates labor during their work time at the correctional institution. After work, the inmates return to their rooms. In the workspace, there are several tools that can be used as weapons or used to make weapons. In order to prevent the inmates from bringing these into their rooms, officers have to check the inmates using metal detectors and their own hands. Some inmates even threaten officers during this process.
Another difficulty correctional officers face is indifference. Even though the Correction Service plays an important role in social security, neither the government nor society shows much attention to us. Because of low budgets, we always lack manpower. Right now, one correctional officer is in charge of about 40 inmates, on average. This makes our job very dangerous. Also, we are supposed to work in four shifts, but the lack of manpower hinders this.
To make matters worse, correctional facilities are often targets of the NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) phenomenon. This causes correctional facilities to be located in very remote places and makes commuting burdensome for officers. Most correctional officers have to commute by car as a result.
3. What makes you feel this job is worthwhile?
Sometimes ex-inmates, who were successfully reformed, contact me via letters or phone calls. They say “thank you”, and this is when I feel that I have a profession that is really worthwhile. Also, when I feel that I am helping out society by serving as an officer; that is one of my happiest moments.
4. What are some important qualities for being a good correctional officer?
All kinds of personalities might help. If I had to choose two kinds of personalities, though, I’d say someone who is thorough and someone who is generous. The former shows you will be good at following the rules, while the latter shows you will be good at understanding others. Everything has its pros and cons.
5. How can someone apply for the Correctional Service? If they get recruited, what kind of training will they receive?
You can serve by applying to the open recruitment or the special recruitment. In my case, I applied to the special recruitment that targets experts of martial arts. Other special recruitments include clinical counselor recruits, lawyer recruits, and a lot more. Special recruitments do not happen every year. Open recruitment happens every year and there are three kinds. Successful applicants of each open recruitment are appointed to different grades.
Recruits will be sent to the Institute of Justice located in Jincheon. There they will learn and train to become proper correctional officers.
6. Could you give advice to people who are interested in or planning to be a correctional officer?
First of all, you need to properly understand what kind of career it is. Many people do not know much about this job and sometimes they have false impressions. So, it is better to be sure that you understand this job and what it requires.
7. How do you feel when working as a correctional officer?
Well, the environment is very poor. This job is essential for social security, but it does not get much attention from society. This is what is lacking most of all. If the correctional institutions are the reservoir, correctional officers are the dam that ensures the reservoir is functioning well, and of course it prevents the reservoirs from flooding the surrounding areas. Shouldn’t we care about the dam so it will not collapse?
Correctional officers are the last bastion that defends society from danger. They ensure that the laws in a society are followed. However, what they do is not appreciated by most people.